Working Together for Scotland’s Children – How do we get ‘partnership’ Right?

October 2006

We talk about ‘partnership’ all the time.  But, how well do we really work together to achieve the very best outcomes for Scotland’s children? 

This event encouraged delegates to cut through the gloss and to consider the very real dilemmas that we all experience in partnership working.  It provided a unique opportunity for those who commission and those who deliver services to come together to work through practice questions. The event was chaired by Euan Davidson, formerly Director of the Prince’s Trust Scotland. 

More about the day is available by following the links below.

Euan Davidson: Former Director: The Princes Trust

  • How do we achieve sustainable partnership? – not something that is renewed year on year
  • What does ‘partnership’ really mean?
  • Why does multi-agency working sometimes work?
  • Why is there a postcode lottery of service availability for young people?

He asked delegates “Do we as a sector respond and react, or do we innovate and initiate?  Do we drive the agenda, and if we do, are we ready to step up, strategically, and take on that role?”

Chris Huxham: Professor of Management in the University of Strathclyde Business School

Drawing from experience of partnership across public, voluntary and commercial sectors, our keynote speaker challenged delegates to think critically about their assumptions and practice of partnership working. 

Chris posed a number of questions:

  • What do we gain from collaboration?
  • Can we move forward before we have trust or before we have fully agreed our aims and objectives?
  • What power relationships do we perceive in our partnerships?
  • What power do we really have in our partnerships?

Drawing on the twin concepts of ‘collaborative advantage’ (something that is achieved that cannot be achieved without collaboration) and ‘collaborative inertia’ (slow and painful experiences of working together), Chris says,

“It is only sensible to collaborate if real collaborative advantage can be envisaged.”

She stresses that there are no easy rules of best practice, and that success depends on the commitment, energy and care of those involved.  We should nurture our partnerships… with a combination of gentle care and collaborative thuggery. 

You can download Chris’s PDF presentation HERE

You can find details of Chris’s book ‘Managing to Collaborate: the theory and practice of collaborative advantage’ HERE on Amazon.

We asked one delegate in each group to share a current experience of partnership work; a partnership with issues to resolve, or where there is inertia.  We asked groups to consider,

What practical suggestions do you have for leadership / facilitative / management behaviour or activities, which could be enacted by the storyteller, that would make a difference?

Partnership scenario 1: a one-way ticket?

A school is unwilling to reintegrate pupils who have been receiving alternative education through a voluntary provider.

Suggestions and learning:

  • The voluntary provider needs to gain representation at strategic forum – both at school and authority level
  • The voluntary organisation needs to identify its own power and influence – and to use it
  • There is a need to adapt the service level agreement and practice protocol
  • School needs to retain ownership and agree to joint aims

Partnership scenario 2:  work with the child …or the whole school community?

A primary and secondary school partner a voluntary provider to assist with the transition of vulnerable pupils into secondary.  Issues quickly emerge including lack of clarity in relation to the schools’ remit and lack of parent/child involvement in the development and monitoring of the work.

Suggestions and learning:

  • Establish aims and respective roles – a contract.  Write down the key points and exactly what people will do in simple language.  Review it regularly.
  • Share the evaluation task with school staff
  • Visit pupils at home at the outset – build parental engagement
  • Involve class teachers
  • Establish dialogue between school and provider regarding children and young people’s issues and review them on weekly basis

Partnership scenario 3:  when inertia sets in

A group of agencies including social work, community education, voluntary organisations and education are brought together with the aim of raising attainment for children and young people. Specific issues quickly develop including lack of shared ownership, different agendas of different organisations and the inflexible approach of some partners.

Suggestions and learning:

  • It is useful to acknowledge personal and professional values then use them to work out aims and purposes
  • If partnership is imposed without any proper development work, inertia occurs

Partnership scenario 4:  from service provision to service planning

How do we work in partnership to improve the educational outcomes for looked after children and young people?

Suggestions and learning:

  • There is a need to delegate leadership and encourage individuals and groups to undertake leadership roles.
  • Partnerships need to initiate a move from multi-agency planning to multi-agency action
  • Need for joined-up training, sharing case studies and best practice
  • Agree common targets and aims
  • Professional commitment and good will are the basis for effective partnership work
  • State clear expected outcomes with agreed evaluation
  • Find the right people within the authority – strategic players may be different from service commissioners
  • It is important to clarify from the offset the type of partnership which is being entered into and that this is agreed. Is it a funding partnership? Or a strategic planning partnership?
  • How do authorities assess need – what is their role in referral and monitoring outcomes for children?
  • What channels do we have to feed practice experiences into strategic planning?
  • State and explore assumptions, organisational, personal and professional values

Steve McCreadie: Assistant Regional Director of Aberlour Childcare Trust and Fraser Sanderson: Director of Education and Community Resources, Dumfries and Galloway Council

Steve McCreadie and Fraser Sanderson jointly presented on the challenges of making partnership work. Steve and Fraser have negotiated development of a successful partnership in Dumfries and Galloway between Aberlour Child Care Trust and the education authority, culminating in an expansion of the Crannog service (to Crannog Plus) this year and a formal partnership agreement. 

‘Collaborative advantage’ includes access to Futurebuilders funding, available only through partnership with the voluntary sector, evidenced outcomes for children and young people and a new purpose built children’s services centre.  

You can download Steve’s presentation HERE

We identified four areas to discuss the implications of ‘partnership’: in how we share information; on how we hold responsibility for children, but give them meaningful opportunities to be heard; on how we evaluate quality of service; and the position of the voluntary sector in a new landscape of multi-agency planning and support.

Being ‘at the table’ but keeping our special relationship with children and families – how confident are we in the practice of information-sharing?

  • It is good practice to share information but it is difficult to know what to share and what not to share
  • It would be useful to have an exemplar of good practice. Guidelines for all agencies would be helpful – explaining what we do and how we do it.
  • We need to move away from crisis intervention with children and families
  • In terms of early intervention, it might help if we have a duty to share information.
  • Information-sharing is vital. Different people can hold different pieces of information which only make sense once they are shared between professionals

 Where is the child in our partnership? How do advocacy, responsibility and rights fit together in supporting individual children?

  • We need common language
  • We need to hear the voice of young people and young people’s stories
  • We need to share practice at front-line level
  • We need shared training in youth participation
  • Listen to children! We need to communicate in appropriate manner and adopt person centred approaches
  • Use creative practice to reach decisions
  • Agree meeting structure which balances professional, parent and children’s involvement
  • Preparation of the family – recognise this process and the time/staff resource required

Doing the right things and doing them right – how do we ensure quality of service for each and every child ‘in the round’, no matter who provides it

  • We need to acknowledge the distance travelled – soft outcomes matter.
  • There is a need for mutual respect between voluntary organisations and the statutory sector – backed up by evidence of successful interventions
  • Good evaluation processes and clear aims are vital
  • Partnership is important, but sometimes it is right that professionals and organisations have confidence to act to support children

How do we define the unique role of the voluntary sector in the new landscape of children’s services?

  • Partnership implies more than contracting services, so what is the relationship of partnerships to contracts?
  • Intra-sector collaboration is challenging in light of competitive tendering
  • The voluntary sector has to provide more robust and thorough information about its activities and organisations on local and national basis
  • Investment is needed to support voluntary organisations to carry out effective evaluations – both quantitative and qualitative – and to know how to utilise data to bear influence
  • Use our own voices especially where we have knowledge and expertise